When I was seven years old, my best friend taught me the true meaning of leadership. We spent countless nights stirring up adventure in Elwood City battling the neighborhood bully, Binky, or starting an ambitious boy band. I left him only when my mother's voice pierced through my imagination like a dagger, forcing me to put down my book and go to sleep.
When my classmates befriended extraordinary characters, l choose an ordinary aardvark, Arthur Reed. He count not fly like Peter Pan or corral criminals like Superman, but neither could I. We got along because he reminded me so much of myself. I did not have multifarious talents like my classmates did. Julie from three desks down could sing her ABC's backwards. Michael from recess could shoot a basketball with his eyes closed. I did not do anything exceptional unless you consider nose-picking a talent.
Arthur was in the same boat as me. He was not as funny as Buster or as smart as the Brain, but yet, there was never a day when he doubted himself. He embraced his normality and still impacted the residents of Elwood City in a way seldom seen in the real world. I learned more from him than I ever would have from attending leadership seminars and conferences: Leadership is the ordinary things we do to impact those around us in extraordinary ways.
Is it odd that a whole children's book series revolves around the life of an average boy? In today's culture, if a reality television show blazoned the lives of average people, ratings would plummet. Society idolizes the extraordinary -- the Kardashians, highly-paid football players and CEOs of the world -- and trivializes the ordinary. Similarly, the definition of leadership has been corrupted into this unobtainable status, and for you to declare yourself a leader brings a boastful, self-indulgent connotation.
Leadership is such a large, encompassing characteristic, but the Merriam-Webster's Dictionary attempts to put meaning behind the word, defining it as "the capacity to lead." We often categorize this capacity to lead solely to distinguishable figures who have done big things. This view is skewed -- a result of years of exalting the extraordinary and disregarding the ordinary.
It is not reserved for extraordinary people like the president or Oprah. It cannot be. Everyone, regardless of talent or caliber, has leadership. Leadership is about leading yourself and others. In today's society, those who lead others are celebrated because the results of their choices are easily seen. What about the man who has worked long, silent nights to provide for his family? What about the anorexic girl who has been taking small, gradual steps to overcome her disorder? We must value all types and sizes of leadership the way Arthur valued all of his friends in Elwood City.
Surprisingly, the English boy band One Direction promotes the most realistic interpretation of leadership in their hit, "Little Things." All of the little things people do constitute the epitome of leadership. Over time, these little things develop into bigger, more impactful things. Many leaders abandon this natural progression and later find themselves scratching their heads, wondering why their unreasonably ambitious plans failed. For example, consider the writing of a letter for a selfless solder, an ordinary but powerful act. A soldier puts himself or herself in jeopardy to give you, a complete stranger, freedom and safety. If the right spark and enthusiasm are present, this act can grow into organizing letter-writing campaigns. Evidently, the metamorphosis of ordinary to extraordinary requires time and energy. It is a humble journey of discovery and passion.
Marianne Williamson said, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."
We often take for granted our own ordinary strength. The simplest things we do can affect people in the most powerful ways, although they are not always acknowledged. The emotions we feel during our darkest darks -- love, compassion, humility -- propel us to overcome. At the end of the day, as individuals, we try to go to sleep as a much better person than when we woke up. The family, friends, and relationships we make motivate us to climb new mountains and cross oceans, but it all starts with being ordinary, just like Arthur.